As New Zealand prepares to implement one of the world’s toughest anti-smoking laws, a similar ban has already been implemented in a Boston suburb nearly 10,000 miles away.
New Zealand unveiled its plan earlier this month to prevent young people from ever smoking in their lives.
The bill, which also includes other anti-smoking measures, would make it illegal to sell or provide tobacco products to people born after a certain date.
Starting in 2027, New Zealand’s legal smoking age of 18 would be gradually raised, allowing current smokers to continue purchasing tobacco products but effectively making them unavailable to anyone born after 2008.
The proposal would make the retail tobacco industry in New Zealand one of the most restricted in the world.
However, it is not the first place to try out an age-based tobacco ban. A bylaw that went into effect in September in Brookline, Massachusetts — a wealthy suburb within walking distance of Boston — permanently prohibits anyone born after January 1, 2000, from purchasing tobacco and vape products. This means that people who turned 21 this year, the legal age in Massachusetts for purchasing tobacco, will be unable to do so in Brookline.
According to Katharine Silbaugh, a co-sponsor of Brookline’s ban and a professor of law at Boston University as well as an elected official in Brookline’s town government, the idea is part of the same “tobacco-free generation” movement that New Zealand is working to achieve.
She and others who fought for the Brookline regulation have been in contact with advocates in New Zealand as they work on their national plan, she said.
“There are definite advantages to doing what they’re doing because a person who is really determined to buy tobacco can go across town lines here,” she explained. “However, there is compelling evidence that increased access to substances increases use, so what Brookline did will not have no effect.” It’ll have an impact.”
While they share the goal of eliminating tobacco use, Brookline and New Zealand face distinct challenges.
The bylaw only applies to Brookline, a predominantly white town of about 60,000 people with a median household income of about $117,000. Local legislators approved it by a vote of 139 to 78 in November 2020.
Tobacco use isn’t a big deal in Brookline to begin with: According to the Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, which is run by the state Department of Public Health, 6.8 percent of adults smoke, which is half the statewide rate. The New Zealand plan has been proposed for the entire country of more than 5 million people, where 11.6 percent of all people aged 15 and older smoke. Among Indigenous Maori adults, the proportion rises to nearly 29 percent. The government’s goal is to reduce the overall figure to less than 5% by 2025.
While health advocates have praised the plan, politicians and advocacy groups in New Zealand have criticized it as excessive state intervention that will harm businesses.
Kaushal stated that his organization supports the initiative but believes that affected businesses should be compensated.
Financial concerns loom large among small businesses in Brookline as well, but this time it’s because they’re afraid customers will simply drive to the next town to buy tobacco products.
In Brookline, Elias Audy and his son own two Mobil gas stations. They predict a significant revenue loss that extends beyond tobacco sales, because customers who go elsewhere to buy cigarettes are likely to also buy gas and other items there.
Silbaugh, a co-sponsor of the Brookline bylaw, believes the ban will have less of an impact on businesses than the Audys and others fear.
She hopes that the ban will eventually be extended beyond Brookline so that the Audys won’t have to watch customers go elsewhere for their nicotine fix.
The New Zealand proposals, which include lowering the nicotine content of tobacco products as well as reducing the number of retailers authorized to sell them, are expected to be debated in Parliament in the coming weeks. Because the ruling Labour Party has a majority, the legislation, which does not affect the sale of vaping products, is likely to pass.
The move has received support from a range of experts in New Zealand, including those at leading Maori public health provider Hapai Te Hauora, which described the announcements as “long overdue.”